An ancient city (Babylonian Bab-ilim or Babil, "gate of God"), capital of Babylonia in the 2nd and 1st millennia BC and one of the most important cities of the ancient world. Today its location is marked by a broad area of ruins just east of the Euphrates River, 90 km (56 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq. In antiquity the city profited from its location extending across the main overland trade route connecting the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean.
Babylon is first mentioned in documents only in the late 3rd millennium BC, although the site was settled in prehistoric times. About 2200 BC it was known as the site of a temple, and during the 21st century BC it was subject to the nearby city of Ur. By 1894 BC Babylon became an independent city-state, when the AmoriteSumu-abum founded a dynasty there, which reached its high point under King Hammurabi. Hammurabi issued one of the first legal codes, with laws that applied even to animals. For example, if a animal died while under the care of a veterinarian, the vet had to pay the owner one-fourth of the animal's value.
Another famous Babylonian king was Nebuchadnezzar II, who legend says built the fabulous Hanging Gardens of Babylon for his Persian wife because she missed the green hills of her native land. Although the gardens if they ever existed disappeared long ago, archeologists have found the remains of an intricate irrigation system that it could have carried water to a garden built on the roof of a building.
The Babylonians believed that the gods communicated their intentions through omens and signs smoke, a flock of birds, a shooting star, or an eclipse. Their astrologers studied every movement in the heavens and used astrolabes (ancient instruments used to chart the location and movement of stars and planets) to make precise measurements of the locations of the stars. In fact, their work eventually led to sciences such as astronomy, and some of the names they gave to stars and constellations are still in use today.
In 1595 BC the city was captured by Hittites, and shortly thereafter it came under the control of the Kassite dynasty (circa 1590-1155 BC). The Kassites transformed Babylon the city-state into the country of Babylonia by bringing all of southern Mesopotamia into permanent subjection and making Babylon its capital and thus the administrative center of a large kingdom. Later, around the 12th century BC, it became the religious center as well, when its principal god, Marduk, was elevated to the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon.
After the collapse of the Kassite dynasty under pressure from the Elamites to the east, Babylon was governed by several short-lived dynasties. From the late 8th century BC until the Assyrians were expelled by Nabopolassar, between 626 and 615 BC, the city was part of the Assyrian Empire.
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